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Why Facebook Search Will Make a Lot of Money...and Be Completely Ineffective

  |  December 3, 2012   |  Comments

How Facebook Search might evolve the model, generate a boatload of cash, and still be largely useless to consumers and brands.

Inspiration for writing columns comes from many places. Sometimes it's from timely news surrounding companies or new research, and sometimes it's from something completely benign, like a horse head mask for sale on Amazon.

On Black Friday, one of the fine employees in the office posted that horse head mask on Facebook as his pick of the day for best deal online. As is the case with Facebook and inane items, a few people liked his post and a couple more commented - and suddenly it became a Facebook Sponsored Story being shared with his network. (You can tell he's a search expert by the witty pun in the copy.) In this model, Amazon is paying for the push of a horse head mask. I'm going to leave the ROI calculation of that alone for the moment.

Instead, let's think about how Facebook Search might evolve the model, generate a boatload of cash, and still be largely useless to consumers and brands.

Why Facebook Search?

Money. Next question.

Why Would Users Benefit From Facebook Search?

Think about the sheer volume of questions being asked by individuals on a daily basis to their Facebook network, and think about the potential of marrying that hand-raising with more informed responses. For example, you want guidance on the right car or diaper to buy, and your network, via association with brands, surfaces "liked" choices. Or you enter a query into the oft forgotten Facebook toolbar and it would return to you not only people and pages, but ads. There are forms of this already in play with Sponsored Stories, but the explicit association is the next step and could be beneficial to all…maybe.

What Prevents Facebook Search From Working?

There is a mindset around social search that suggests that your friends are highly influential to your decision-making. That's why you ask for their opinions in the first place. If you go to Facebook versus a comparison shopping engine for reviews, you are prioritizing your network over a network of random opinions. This is why Sponsored Stories include the friend that liked the horse head mask over a standard ad.

But, is your network better than a comparison audience? Facebook is built on the social graph of your friends. The wisdom of that crowd is skewed based on how they became "friends" in the Facebook sense. Most Facebook friends are high school, college, and work connections, which means they may not have opinions worth considering on many topics of interest to me. On a one-off basis, sure, but does knowing two of my friends like a car brand constitute an endorsement worthy of action?

Social search starts with that base, a social network. To steal a concept from Google, it's not a circle of enthusiasts around a given topic that I am searching for opinions from. Google works in no small part because it is able to algorithmically decipher what is most relevant based on my query. For Facebook Search to work it needs a much heavier dosage of interest graph or it needs to properly align with a true search engine that makes the basis of the process search, and then layers in seamlessly the social component it does so well today.

Anything else and it's a bit "cart before the horse," with brands and consumers in search of horse head masks and other queries to feel like the horse's rear instead.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Copeland

Chris Copeland is chief executive officer of GroupM Next, the forward-looking, media innovation unit of GroupM. Chris is responsible for curating and communicating insight-focused media solutions across established and emerging platforms. Leveraging his multi-year experience with emerging media companies, Chris is tasked with stewarding GroupM Next in partnership with agency leadership from GroupM's four media marketing and marketing service agencies (Maxus, MEC, MediaCom, and Mindshare).

Guiding the Predictive Insights, Technology, Education, Research, and Communications teams at GroupM Next, Chris is responsible for overseeing the amplification of insights into opportunities that directly benefit the business of GroupM agencies and their clients. GroupM is the world's largest media investment management group and the media holding arm of WPP.

Chris was selected to lead GroupM Next after nine years of leading the search marketing practice within GroupM. Among his accomplishments include the development and integration of the global search marketing offering for GroupM agencies, GroupM Search, which manages $1.3 billion in search billings globally and has grown to more than 1,000 search marketing strategists serving 40 countries.

Chris is an active member on advisory boards at the 4A's, Google, Yahoo, MSN, and I-COM. He is a frequent speaker in global forums discussing the digital marketplace, and contributes editorial commentary regularly to Advertising Age, ClickZ, MediaPost, and MediaBizBloggers.com.

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